5 Tips to Occupy Your Toddler While Homeschooling

The following is a guest post written by Erin Walton of Calling it Progress.

One of the lovely things about homeschooling is that the family is home together much of the time.

It is part of the reason many of us homeschool, but it can also be one of the hardest logistical parts, especially with a toddler!

What can you do to keep that little one busy (but not ignored) while you work with your older kids?

1. Spend time with your toddler first.

Make meeting the emotional needs of your toddler the first priority of the day, and often your little one will be more content when you spend time with the other kids.

Cuddle on the couch and sing a few songs together, read a book or two, play together on the floor for 10 minutes- this bit of time gives your little one the attention she is looking for before she even knows she needs it.

But what about your older kids?

Teach them the next habit to make use of the time you spend with the toddler:

2. Teach your older child(ren) to self-start in at least one subject or activity.

Establishing a morning routine that includes toddler time AND the start of school can help you tremendously!

Teach your older ones to automatically pull out one subject or activity–the same thing every day–and get started. This should be work that takes no explanation or supervision from you so that once the older kids are settled in your attention can really be with your toddler.

3. Have pre-made activities or toys ready to go.

Having activities ready for your toddler can help your day run smoothly. If you are constantly trying to find something to keep them busy, then you’re spending all your time trying to keep the toddler busy instead of doing the actual schooling!

In addition to keeping a few key open-ended toys available (trains, blocks, lincoln logs, etc.), I take some time about once a month to set up bags that contain one craft or activity each and put them aside for my three-year-old.

The bags might be a seasonal coloring page I’ve printed, a cutting activity, a sticker page, or something involving glue–these have been wonderful to pull out when he wants to feel like he’s “doing school”. I make sure that these activities are something he can do on his own. When he was younger I never included projects that used glue or scissors, but now that he’s proficient with both we have even more options available to us.

4. Consider providing a separate work space for your toddler.

We set up a toddler table for our boys a few years ago, but recently moved to using a bigger table during our daily work time. The toddler table has become a favorite spot for our 3-year-old!

He loves having his own space for his activities and the space is easy to take care of–the little table tucks under the big one when not in use.

5. Cultivate a hidden stash.

Try to keep an eye for little things that you can pull out on those days when nothing seems to work:

a new sheet of stickers, homemade playdough or “emergency toys” (toys that are only pulled out and played with when mom has to accomplish something NOW) can be the trick up your sleeve to make sure math is learned or grammar explained.

How do you keep your toddler entertained while you homeschool?


  1. Love this! It’s been on my mind a lot lately as I anticipate homeschooling with two toddlers in tow, so thank you for sharing.

  2. Leah Schroeder says:

    Yep. I’ve got twin two year old boys so we’re right in the throws of it! I also do “blanket time” with puzzles or blocks or something open ended where the boys have to stay on their blanket until I tell them they can get off. This helps them learn to focus on one kind of toy for a little while and keeps the toy more contained as well as keeping them from climbing all over me while I’m listening to their sister read or whatever.

  3. I don’t have toddlers, but this is something new moms in our homeschool group ask all the time! I love these tips!
    Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s latest post: Our Homeschool Room

  4. I think it is quite important to establish what you want your little kids to be doing and the rhythm of your day with them before you start school and before you try and do school with the older kids. The week before we start school I have a “practice” week where we just go through the motions of school but I am just setting up the new routine. I don’t do any special activities with my little guys but I do make sure the materials are available for them to play: a plastic cupboard to unpack, some blankets to make a house or a picnic, a pile of books, some easy art materials… then they are free to play without me interrupting them with ideas and we are free to school without them interrupting us!!!
    I have posted what my little kids do during school before and you are welcome to take a look: http://www.se7en.org.za/2010/11/12/homeschool-question-what-do-little-people-do-during-school

  5. Good tips! Starting to school my 3rd grader today. 5 yo brother goes to KG but 2 yo sister is already an attention hog :). Thanks for the advice!

  6. Great tips!

    Number 2 has been especially helpful at our house, where my third grader sometimes finds school interrupted when the 4 year old or 2 year old need/want my attention. A good solution for us has been an adaptation of the workbox system – I make sure at least one workbox is something for her to do independently.

    Having activities and toys ready to go is a big helper, too. We rotate toys (thanks to learning about that idea in Jamie’s Steady Days book) and my toddler enjoys re-discovering old favorites as they come back around in the toy rotation.

    Thanks for the good ideas and for starting this discussion – it is one I think many homeschooling families of multiple aged children have questions about at one time or another 🙂
    Kara @Simple Kids’s latest post: Creating Realistic Routines for Your Family

  7. My toddler (14 mos) is a little too young for these, so right now, we all take turns playing with her. Luckily, my older two can do a fair amount of independent work, so it’s not a major issue most days.
    Dee’s latest post: March 17

  8. Kathleen K says:

    These are some wonderful suggestions. Our toddler days are now behind us, since the youngest is 6. We used some of these suggestions, especially a version of blanket time. From the time the baby was 6-9 months old, he spent at least part of the time in his pack and play. He could see us, but he was separate. From that, he learned to entertain himself. By the time he was too big for the pack and play, he was ready for blanket time. I also enforced the boys (!) learning to sit quietly with nothing to do. The baby would sit on my lap quietly. I gradually increased the time until he could sit 30 minutes without a problem. Usually by this time, school was over.
    And my final trick: let one older child play with the toddler while the other(s) work, and rotate every 20-30 minutes.
    Persevere mama! These days will be over before you know it and you’ll wish you could bring them back, even for a moment.

  9. Great tips! I passed the link on to a HS dad who had just asked about this. I also love the page that Se7en posted with her answers. 🙂 I have ten tips that have worked for me and homeschooling friends here: http://www.examiner.com/homeschooling-in-mankato/homeschool-101-how-do-i-teach-my-older-kids-with-little-ones-around
    Magic and Mayhem’s latest post: Lots of Nifties and One Book to Make You Think

  10. Wow…love all these tips in the post and the comments! I will be starting to homeschool my oldest next year for KN and am wondering what I will do to keep the 2 yr. old busy. Thanks!
    Krissa’s latest post: R is for Rainbow

  11. Having stuff for my 4 year old to do that is similar to what his older 6yo brother is doing helps us – I have a preschool/k4 for math book that he works on while we do our math, he has a handwriting book for when we do that. Being boys, they really feed off of eachother and having both of them occupied at the same time is a feat! Throw little 11mo brother in the mix, our mornings are often chaotic 🙂 ..thank goodness for naptimes 🙂
    Courtney Less Stressed’s latest post: What Does it Cost

  12. You’re ideas are great. This coming year I’ll have a baby, a toddler, a preschooler, a 1st grader and a 2nd grader. This last year I have had “school” with my preschooler shortly after I get the older two started on some of the work they can do by themselves. We usually read a book of her choice, followed by either an easy craft or a coloring sheet that has something to do with the book we just read, she loves her special time. Next year I’m sure I will find it a challenge as I begin to deal with more kids needing Mommy-time too. I really like the idea of having a few things set aside that you can pull out at a moments notice to help occupy the littlest ones.
    Suanna’s latest post: Celebrate Spring!

  13. Great suggestions! I am not homeschooling and only have ONE toddler (with one on the way), but I find some of these tips helpful when I am trying to get something done around the house, make a phone call, etc…and anticipate the need for some of them when I am caring for a newborn and my girl is at my ankles demanding attention. I have done premade activities before, but am going to try the activity “bag” once baby arrives. Thanks!
    Anne’s latest post: Easter Wreath-DONE!

  14. Thanks for all the great suggestions. I am trying to start a little school with my four year old, but it’s hard to keep the 2 1/2 year old and 9 mo. old from interrupting all the time. I will definitely use some of these ideas.

  15. Hello Erin, thanks for your very informative post! It has a lot of stuff that many parents like me can learn from. Raising a kid can be really tough. Especially when they are that stage where they try to learn and explore things. It’s crazy! Right now, my kids are into colouring and writing stuff. I’m thinking of buying them their own Computer Desks For Home so that they can enjoy their place as long as they want. Thanks!

  16. I only have a toddler and I’m constantly trying to figure out how to occupy her. This post was comforting because your tips (except for the one about other kids self-starting) apply to not-yet-homeschool families as well.

    Especially since sometimes the only answer I have is duct-tape.

    I’ll keep this bookmarked to avoid CPS. 😉
    Bon Crowder’s latest post: LCM and GCF – And Something Really Cool

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  18. Very helpful! Thank you! I have 2 boys, 2nd grade and kindergarten, and one 3-year old daughter. She does very well with sit down activities but having them prepared ahead of time (like your craft bag’s) is a wonderful idea! 🙂
    Harmony’s latest post: What I’m Reading Right Now

  19. I have a 2yo and a 6mo, and a rising 4yo. I loved homeschool, but have to work part-time from the home w/ a babysitter. How will you do it Tsh and Erin?
    I have to convince public school raised husband this is even plausible.

  20. duncan faber says:

    We have 5 kids so keeping the occupied is a big deal in my house. We download a lot of audiobooks. There are lots of great sites to get them, but we use this site a lot because all the stories are free and original. http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/moral-stories-for-kids

  21. These suggestions are excellent! I first need to train my older kids on self-start. I’ve been trying to implement this since I got pregnant but with no success. I guess it’s due to having one older kid with ADHD. But thank you for these awesome suggestions.

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